Saturday, July 30, 2011

85 million and counting

The statewide commercial salmon harvest, all species, currently tallies about 85 million fish.

It's now up to the pink salmon whether we make the forecast of 203 million fish for the season.

Speaking of pinks, seiners in northern Southeast have scored record catches, while southern harvests are well below average, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports. Some 20 million pinks taken overall in Southeast so far.

In Kodiak, the pink salmon run is believed to be either weak or late, the department says. Only 1.3 million caught so far, well below expectations.

Elsewhere, in Upper Cook Inlet, fishermen of all descriptions have feasted on sockeye, with the total run headed for 9 million fish rather than the 6.4 million forecast.

But remember, this is Upper Cook Inlet, so anger and discontent abound, right along with the fish. Here's an entertaining cut from Fish and Game's weekly commercial salmon summary:

This past week a large protest was held in the parking lot of the ADF&G office in Soldotna. The protesters were mostly sportfishing guides who were unhappy about the no-bait restriction being implemented in the Kenai River by Sport Fish Division in response to a weak Chinook salmon run. These folks were specifically miffed by the fact that a mandatory restriction to the commercial set gillnet fishery was not in the management plan when the in-river fishery was restricted. The management plan only speaks to a commercial closure when the in-river sport fishery closes. A representative from the protest group met with department staff so they could have their issues heard. In response to the weak Chinook salmon run, the setnets on the east side of Cook Inlet have been fished much less aggressively than they ordinarily would have been in light of such a strong sockeye salmon run. The result will be that the escapement goal for sockeye salmon in the Kenai River will be exceeded, perhaps by a half-million fish or more.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sunken salmon seiner salvaged

The Lively Jane, a salmon seiner that hit a rock and sank July 13 southwest of Valdez, has been refloated. That's her there on the right, with the salvage tug Oswell Foss to starboard. The plan is to tow the seiner to Cordova for drydocking and repair, the U.S. Coast Guard said this afternoon. USCG photo

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Back with bits and pieces

Deckboss apologizes for his silence the past few days. Had some nonfish business to deal with.

To catch up, here are a few news nuggets I'm sure you'll find interesting.

• The Copper River District has produced a catch of 2 million sockeye so far this season, which is pretty awesome. Gillnetters managed only about 636,000 last year.

• The Prince William Sound shrimp pot fishery will close for the season at 10 p.m. Friday. Why? Because shrimpers by then are expected to max out the 52,760-pound quota. Last year's harvest came in at 45,349 pounds, well short of the 55,000-pound limit.

• The Norton Sound red king crab fishery also will close Friday, at noon. Crabbers are expected to hit the 331,150-pound quota by then.

• We know more now about the outcome of the big Togiak sac roe herring fishery back in May. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game puts the total value of the huge 22,699-ton harvest at about $2.3 million, based on an estimated grounds price of $100 per ton. Last year, Togiak herring paid $150 per ton, not counting any post-season adjustments.

• I haven't read it yet, but here's an independent review the states of Alaska and Washington commissioned on the recent federal biological opinion regarding commercial fishing effects on endangered Steller sea lions. The BiOp resulted in the closure of significant fishing grounds out the Aleutian chain — and provoked an ongoing lawsuit.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sitka processing plant forced to evacuate

Here's a situation report on an ammonia release at the Silver Bay Seafoods plant in Sitka.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

OK, some for you, and for you — now hush!

Competing fleets have waged a halibut war for many years around the Gulf of Alaska.

Now federal regulators are working, again, on a potential resolution to the conflict.

It's called a "catch sharing plan." It would allocate halibut between the commercial and charter boat sectors.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is inviting public comment on the plan, and today issued this press release.

Deckboss, of course, takes no position. Other than he hopes the regulators this time succeed in settling this tiresome fight. I'm frankly worn out writing about it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cook Inlet's blessing — and frustration

Sockeye salmon are storming the Kenai River in big numbers. Which is a great thing, right?

It is if you can catch 'em.

Commercial fishermen are on delivery limits due to a processor capacity crunch.

"I am on the water right now with a 5,000-pound limit," one drift gillnetter told Deckboss this afternoon.

Science and jobs

Here's a congressional note of interest.

The House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs will hold a hearing next Tuesday on "NOAA's Fishery Science: Is the Lack of Basic Science Costing Jobs?"

Hmm, now that's a provocative topic.

At first I thought this might be a New England inquisition. But after looking at the subcommittee membership, I'm not so sure.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bristol Bay sockeye price reportedly reaches $1

Deckboss hears a major Bristol Bay processor, Yardarm Knot, has posted a base price of $1 a pound for sockeye, plus 15 cents for chilled fish.

Last season's average base was 95 cents a pound, the best price seen around the bay in quite a few years.

A pretty lady lost

The Lively Jane in happier times. Joshua Roper photo

We told you last week about the Lively Jane, a Prince William Sound salmon seiner that hit a rock and sank in Anderson Bay six miles southwest of Valdez.

Sometimes when we hear a report that a boat has sunk, it means she just swamped. But as you can see by the smaller photo from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Lively Jane went to the bottom. Boom was deployed around the sunken seiner to corral any fuel or oil leakage.

Divers were able to plug the vessel's fuel vents and "remove the 20 feet of seine net and bridle from the vessel," said the Coast Guard, noting it was monitoring salvage efforts.

Fortunately, all five crewmen got off safely. But too bad for this pretty boat.

My thanks to Joshua Roper Photography for the nice shot of the Lively Jane.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Reds retreat, but pinks are coming

Here are some key stats as we enter the middle innings of the 2011 commercial salmon season.

• The total catch, all species, stands at just over 53 million fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported today. That's about a quarter of the way toward the season forecast of 203 million.

• The Bristol Bay sockeye catch is coming up well short of forecast. The harvest through Thursday stood at 20.4 million reds, with 8.5 million taken in the Naknek-Kvichak District. The run took a nosedive in recent days, and now fishermen are pulling their boats and hopping planes for home. The state had predicted a catch of 28.5 million sockeye. Deckboss hasn't heard anything yet about prices.

• Pink salmon catches are starting to come on. The statewide tally is 16.7 million pinks, with Prince William Sound accounting for most of them. Still a long way to go, obviously, to reach the forecast of 133.5 million.

• Chum salmon catches are mixed, with 5.1 million taken so far statewide on a forecast of 19.5 million. Chum runs are ranging from horrible at the Hidden Falls Hatchery near Sitka to excellent way up in Norton Sound.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cook Inlet commercial salmon industry scores huge victory as judge grants restraining order

The 12-page ruling says the Alaska Board of Fisheries lacked an "emergency" basis to enact late-minute regulations that drift gillnetters said could have cut their catch by up to half this season.

It's a defeat for the state as well as the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, which jumped into the case as an intervenor.

Crew safe after seiner sinks near Valdez

The U.S. Coast Guard reports the purse seiner Lively Jane hit a submerged rock and sank this morning in Anderson Bay, six miles southwest of Valdez.

The five crewmen were able to climb aboard a skiff before the seiner went down, the Coast Guard says.

As always, the cause is said to be "under investigation."

The owner of the 56-foot Lively Jane is listed in state records as Jon L. Andrews Jr. of Seward.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trawlers shrink grounds to avoid chum bycatch

The Bering Sea pollock industry might close itself out of as much as 5,000 square nautical miles of fishing grounds in an effort to reduce chum salmon bycatch.

Here's the press release.

Monday, July 11, 2011

9th Circuit upholds state in Cook Inlet case

We told you over the weekend about a lawsuit the commercial fishing industry filed against the state concerning salmon management in Upper Cook Inlet.

Now, today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has issued an opinion favoring the state in a case four commercial gillnetters brought in 2007.

Here's the top of the appeals court opinion:

Plaintiffs Dyer L. Vandevere, John McCombs, Gary Hollier, and John Jent fish commercially for salmon in the waters of Alaska's Upper Cook Inlet. State-issued entry permits and shore fishery leases allow them to fish there. After Alaska promulgated regulations that shorten the fishing year and limit the number of salmon that commercial fishers may harvest, Plaintiffs brought this action against Defendant Denby Lloyd, who is the Commissioner of the Fisheries for the State of Alaska (the "Commissioner of the Fisheries"), asking the district court to declare those regulations unconstitutional as a taking of property without just compensation and as a violation of Plaintiffs' due process rights. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Commissioner of the Fisheries. On de novo review, Ward v. Ryan, 623 F.3d 807, 810 (9th Cir. 2010), we affirm.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Farm-fresh barramundi, mate?

The July 18 issue of TIME magazine has a cover story titled "The future of fish: Can farming save the last wild food?"

The piece focuses on a "perfect" farmed species called barramundi, native to Australia, and makes two major points.

First, fish farming might help save wild fish, because without aquaculture the pressure to overfish would be greater.

Second, with a world population of nearly 7 billion and rising, we have no choice but to farm the sea just as we've long farmed the land.

Says the article: "It's not that commercial fishing will disappear; in fact, sustainable fisheries like Alaska's wild-salmon industry may even produce boutique foods, finally earning what they're worth."

Lawsuit challenges Cook Inlet 'emergency' regs

Here's that Cook Inlet lawsuit.

This is the gist of the 16-page suit, as stated in the introduction:

Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment with respect to "emergency" regulations issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (the "Department") and the Alaska Board of Fisheries (the "Board") restricting commercial salmon fishing in Cook Inlet. These regulations will affect at least half of the regular fishing periods during the most important commercial salmon fishing window this summer by placing significant restrictions on those days. These emergency regulations were issued without public comment or due process on June 30, 2011, well after the 2011 fishing season started, and will have an immediate impact on commercial fishing beginning July 9, 2011.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lawsuit filed today against Board of Fisheries

A commercial fishing group today sued the state, but Deckboss hasn't yet seen the lawsuit and can't say for sure what it's about.

The "complaint for injunctive relief" was filed in Superior Court in Anchorage. A motion for a temporary restraining order also was filed.

The plaintiffs are listed as Stephen Vanek, Erik Huebsch, Ian Pitzman, United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Copper River Seafoods Inc.

Listed defendants include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the state Board of Fisheries.

My presumption is the plaintiffs are suing because they're unhappy with the state's treatment of the commercial salmon sector in Cook Inlet.

As we all know, Cook Inlet long has been a battleground pitting commercial, sport, dipnet and subsistence users.

Is this cutter too dinky for Alaska?

The 110-foot island class cutter Chandeleur.

The U.S. Coast Guard intends to transfer the cutter Chandeleur from Miami, Fla., to Ketchikan to replace the Acushnet, which was decommissioned in March.

But some folks, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are unhappy with the swap.

The Chandeleur is a 110-foot "island class" patrol boat, while the Acushnet was a 213-foot "medium endurance" cutter.

Murkowski, in this press release, suggests the replacement cutter is too small and "will have difficulty making it far out into just the Gulf of Alaska."

She's also concerned the Chandeleur won't arrive in Ketchikan for months pending an overhaul, as this Coast Guard letter explains.

The Chandeleur is named after the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of barrier islands off Louisiana.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hurt fisherman hoisted off boat, on way to Kodiak

This just in from the U.S. Coast Guard.

State records show the vessel involved is a 48-foot seiner belonging to Knud Olsen of Shoreline, Wash.

July 7, 2011

Coast Guard conducts medevac 218 miles southwest of Kodiak

KODIAK — The Coast Guard this evening is airlifting a man from the fishing vessel Heidi Linea 218 miles southwest of Kodiak.

The Coast Guard received a call at 5:20 p.m. via satellite phone reporting Anthony Imas, 50, residency unknown, was suffering from severe back pain as a result of a fall aboard the vessel.

A rescue helicopter arrived on scene and safely hoisted Imas in stable condition at 9:45 p.m.

They are expected to arrive in Kodiak around midnight.

Weather conditions at the time of the rescue included 23 mph winds and 4-foot seas.

Seiner flips, but outcome is Copasetic for crew

This just in from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Deckboss wonders whether the vessel involved here, the Copasetic, is the same boat that found trouble last summer.

July 7, 2011

Good Samaritan rescues four east of Resurrection Bay

KODIAK — The crew of the 58-foot good Samaritan fishing vessel Silver Storm rescued four fishermen Wednesday evening from the capsized 57-foot fishing vessel Copasetic near Cape Puget, 28 miles east of Resurrection Bay.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstanders received a brief mayday call via VHF-FM radio at 6:02 p.m. from the crew of the Seward-based Copasetic. The Homer-based Silver Storm crew reported they heard the transmission and were a mile and a half away and en route to assist.

The Silver Storm arrived on scene at 6:12 p.m. It safely recovered the four Copasetic crewmembers and headed to Chenega Island to disembark the four fishermen. The Silver Storm arrived at Chenega Island at 9:45 p.m. and was met by local emergency medical services. There were no reported injuries.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage personnel will be investigating the cause of the capsizing and sinking of the Copasetic. They will be working with the owner to develop a salvage and response plan for the vessel, reportedly with 2,100 gallons of diesel aboard.

Weather at the time of the incident was reported as winds of 23 mph with 2-foot seas.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quite a fishy haul in state capital budget

Gov. Sean Parnell last week signed the fiscal 2012 capital budget, which totals more than $2.7 billion. Deckboss took a look and found quite a few items of interest to the fishing industry — items that survived the governor's veto pen. Here's a list, starting with the state department affiliated with each project.

• Commerce — Bristol Bay Borough, port expansion, $2,000,000

• Commerce — Cordova, breakwater extension and boat ramp, $1,400,000

• Fish and Game — Cordova, dock and uplands improvements, $650,000

• Commerce — Egegik, dock repair, $55,000

• Commerce — Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Mariculture Research Facility, $300,000

• Commerce — Kodiak Island Borough, Anton Larsen dock, $2,000,000

• Commerce — Kodiak Maritime Museum, Harbor Gateway Project, $298,000

• Commerce — Metlakatla Indian Community, Annette Island Packing Co. freezer expansion, $2,000,000

• Commerce — Prince of Wales Island, Alaska Oyster Cooperative, upgrade existing building to a shellfish processing facility, $106,500

• Commerce — Seward, Alutiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery upgrade, $250,000

• Commerce — Seward, CDQ fishing fleet relocation study, $400,000

• Commerce — Wrangell, boat yard improvements, $3,700,000

• Commerce — Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, Yukon River Chinook salmon management plan, $300,000

• Commerce — Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund program, $1,030,000

• Fish and Game — Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, $12,000,000

• Fish and Game — Pacific Salmon Treaty Chinook fishery mitigation, $7,500,000

• Commerce — Celebrate Seafood Inc., advancing a National Seafood Marketing Association, $200,000

• Transportation — Feasibility study, joint moorage facility for Alaska Marine Highway System ferries and NOAA research vessels, $500,000

• Public Safety — Marine fisheries patrol improvements, $2,000,000

• Fish and Game — Westward Region Didson sonar purchase, $105,000

• Commerce — Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Trail Lakes Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $865,000

• Commerce — Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Tustumena Lake smolt out-migration monitoring, $45,000

• Commerce — Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Tutka Bay Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $591,000

• Commerce — Douglas Island Pink and Chum Inc., Snettisham Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $1,250,000

• Commerce — Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, Kitoi Bay Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $1,308,000

• Commerce — Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, lake nutrient enrichment project, $720,000

• Commerce — Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, Pillar Creek Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $767,000

• Commerce — Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, net pens and hatchery deferred maintenance, $707,800

• Commerce — Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, Hidden Falls Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $1,044,000

• Commerce — Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., nets pens and hatchery deferred maintenance, $426,000

• Commerce — Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., Cannery Creek hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $2,224,000

• Commerce — Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., Gulkana Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $838,000

• Commerce — Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., Main Bay Hatchery maintenance and upgrade, $2,113,000

• Commerce — Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, net pens and hatchery deferred maintenance, $400,000

Searchers hunt for lost fisherman at Platinum

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Platinum, Southwest Alaska
Type: Search and rescue
On 7/4/11 at about 0915 hours, Alaska State Troopers in Bethel were notified that Gilbert Kilbuck, 37, of Platinum, was missing from a boating accident. Kilbuck was reported to have headed out commercial fishing on a 24-foot skiff just off of South Spit in Platinum. Kilbuck's boat was reported to have struck a wave where he was thrown from the boat. Alaska State Troopers launched an aircraft to help with the search, which also involved assets from the U.S. Coast Guard. Local village residents today are searching the area via boat. Alcohol does not appear to be a contributing factor. Kilbuck was reported to have not been wearing a life jacket at the time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Have a taste for something different?

Lest you think salmon is all we care about during summertime in Alaska, please note that commercial fisheries opened today for weathervane scallops and lingcod.

Salmon rocks!

The statewide commercial salmon catch, all species, now totals right at 20 million fish, the Department of Fish and Game reports.

At Bristol Bay, the granddaddy of Alaska's salmon fisheries, the sockeye tally is 9.3 million.

USCG medevacs injured Bristol Bay fisherman

From the U.S. Coast Guard:

July 1, 2011

Coast Guard medevacs fisherman with broken arm

KODIAK — A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew this morning medevaced a 56-year-old fisherman reportedly suffering from a severely broken forearm aboard the 32-foot fishing vessel Miss Maria 14 miles west of Naknek.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstanders received a call via VHF-FM radio from the Alaska State Troopers patrol vessel Stimson stating the Miss Maria crewman reportedly suffered a double compound fracture to his right forearm. The troopers had safely transferred him to the Stimson.

The watchstanders directed the launch of the helicopter at 12:38 a.m. The helicopter crew arrived on scene at 2:53 a.m., safely hoisted the fisherman and flew to Kodiak.

The rescue crew arrived in Kodiak at 5:32 a.m. and safely transferred the man to awaiting emergency medical services who took him to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center for further medical care in reportedly stable condition.

Weather at the time of the rescue was reported as winds of 21 mph with 2-foot seas.